Debate over Bishop's Support for ESA Erupts in San Joaquin

Episcopal News Service. February 7, 1992 [92029]

Criticism of Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin for his support of the traditionalist Episcopal Synod of America (ESA) has erupted into a public debate.

More than 300 lay people and clergy from the diocese gathered at St. James Cathedral in Fresno, January 27, to express opinions about Schofield's support for the ESA, and the recent decision of ESA to create a missionary diocese that some church leaders have called "potentially schismatic."

Schofield called the meeting in response to a three-page letter titled "Good Order in the Church," issued by 50 clergy and laity last December. The document, which has garnered more than 300 signatures since it was issued, criticized the ESA, called on Schofield to disassociate himself from the synod, and asked him to engage in mutual and constructive dialogue with his clergy and laity.

The letter charged that Schofield's outspoken support of the ESA was "corroding the morale and discipline" of the diocese, and expressed distress at his "divided loyalties" and "inconsistent statements.

Several at the Fresno meeting compared the diocese to a "dysfunctional family," saying that there is denial, a lack of communication, and a lack of trust. They added that they were hurt by comments that called members of the Episcopal Church "unbiblical, illegal, heretical, and apostate" if they do not agree with the opinions of the ESA.

"I thought there was room in the Episcopal Church for all of us," said Carter Johnson, of St. Columba's Church in Fresno. "I thought [the church] was an umbrella. I feel alone -- and in more emotional moments -- betrayed." Johnson said that she was most angered by the ESA's opposition to the ordination of women as priests.

Marilyn Hiring of St. Anne's in Stockton asked Schofield "to restore our faith in you by setting a positive example of respect for the Episcopal Church and by responding to our concerns and questions. This meeting is a beautiful start," she said.

"More people are aware of the issues. But we are not closer to a solution," said George LaCroix following the Fresno meeting. LaCroix is a member of St. Columba's Church in Fresno and one of the people who signed the document criticizing the ESA.

Clergy meet; conflicting reports follow

The recent meeting in Fresno was the second one that was called in response to the letter. An earlier, closed-door meeting of Schofield with diocesan clergy was followed by some published reports that clergy had walked out in protest of Schofields's opinion.

A headline in the Bakersfield Californian reported that "conflicting reports" emanated from the clergy meeting -- including whether people walked out or merely "left early."

"There were obviously disagreements," Schofield told the Californian after the clergy meeting. "I felt the good thing was that they felt free to express disagreements and they know they have my support and love and encouragement, even though we don't always agree."

'A loyal Episcopalian'

After the recent meeting, Schofield said that he hoped the name-calling and rancor would end. The Fresno Bee reported that Schofield said that the "hyperbole, the name-calling has been hurtful" on both sides.

However, Schofield did not yield in regard to his convictions. "I remain faithful to the faith I have received," he asserted. He said that included belief in an all-male priesthood and a respect for Scripture and tradition. Schofield pledged that he would continue to work within the structure of the Episcopal Church and continue to be in dialogue with his fellow bishops. "I am a loyal Episcopalian. I intend to stay that way."